“I have no other country, even if my land is aflame” – Israeli songwriter Ehud Manor
Talk of a looming, devastating war with Iran has driven some Israelis with dual citizenship to prepare their foreign passports for the possibility of riding out the potential storm elsewhere. Recently, more than a few such Israelis who have the option of leaving have told me, “If missiles start falling on Tel Aviv, I’m going to America.”
Referring to images Israelis grew all too familiar with during the First Gulf War and Second Lebanon War, another Israeli-American recently put it this way: “I’m not sticking around so I can wear a gas mask and sit in a bomb shelter.”
While leaving Israel is certainly the prerogative of those who fear for their safety should war erupt with Iran, critics argue that Iran’s scare tactics are working. They say that Israelis who plan to leave are letting the enemy win, that the country’s citizens must stand firm in times of danger, and that those who have the option of leaving should exhibit solidarity with their countrymen who, fortunately or unfortunately, have only Israeli passports.
In reality, these arguments may be a bit simplistic. After all, who wouldn’t do everything to keep his or her family out of harm’s way, even if it means leaving home temporarily?
But if we’re already on the subject of reality, there are those who say it doesn’t matter where Israelis flee, the dangers will still be present. “Israel is no more susceptible to the dangers of a dirty bomb than is America,” Haviv Rettig Gur, communications director at the Jewish Agency, told me. “The same rocket that could carry a nuclear warhead to Israel could carry it to London as well.” Whether it is London, Madrid, or even Toulouse, France, Gur says, “The forces that want [Jews and Israelis] dead could strike wherever we are.”
In fact, Gur told me, Jews are much safer in Israel than anywhere in the world. “In all of Israel’s wars, in all of the suicide bombings and terrorism, in all of Israel’s nearly 64 years, we’ve had fewer than 26,000 people killed. That’s not a small number. In American population terms, that’s more than a million dead. But that’s minuscule for the scale of deaths and the scale of destruction in Jewish history.”
Gur dismissed the idea of Israelis seeking refuge elsewhere due to security concerns at home, saying, “Jews are vastly less safe elsewhere and anyone who claims otherwise just ignores every single decade of Jewish history except for the ones in which Israel existed … Israel makes Jews safer; there’s no question, you can’t escape the numbers.”
Despite these numbers, Israelis still appear to be seeking refuge away from home – and more and more of them are applying for foreign (mainly European) passports. Last year, a study conducted by Bar-Ilan University researchers revealed that some 100,000 people living in Israel had German passports, in addition to their Israeli ones.
A source at the German Embassy told me that 7,800 German passports were issued to Israelis in 2011. In 2010, 7,200 were issued, up from 6,900 in 2009. At the Hungarian Embassy, “a great deal of people have applied for passports” in recent years, a source told me, saying the number was in the thousands. The Polish Embassy is issuing about 2,000 passports a year to Israelis. Other embassies would not say how many passports they had issued to Israelis.
Reports have also shown that the number of Israelis who have considered leaving the country, or expressed a desire to leave, has grown in recent years.
A Gallup World Poll conducted in 2007 found that one in every five Israelis would relocate to another country if they had the opportunity. In a 2008 survey commissioned by the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, 59% of Israelis said they had applied or planned to apply for another passport at a foreign embassy.
One year later, in 2009, a poll conducted by Tel Aviv University found that 23% of Israelis would consider leaving the country if Iran acquired a nuclear bomb.
These polls are not absolute and others even contradict them. (Another Gallup Poll conducted last year showed that 63% of Israelis consider themselves to be “thriving” in Israel with only 3% saying they are “suffering.”)
However, whether having a second passport affords them a financial, professional, or existential safety net – or simply eases travel conditions – Israelis undoubtedly feel more secure having one handy.
Interestingly, a 2004 study by Ian Lustick, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, found that security concerns were a greater factor in driving Israelis away from home than economic factors during the period of the Second Intifada.
Moti Alberstein, an Israeli doctoral student, reflected many Israelis’ views when he told The Associated Press last year, “Because of our situation, it’s good to have an escape path … Life in this country entails so much uncertainty that there is this need to have some security.”
The only problem is that the uncertainty and insecurity Israel has endured for so long appear to be crossing borders into other countries, along with the Israelis seeking that escape path.
Republished here with permission from Israel Hayom.